Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” (verses 3-4)
Following Jesus can get us into trouble.
Certainly that was John the Baptist’s experience. Technically, I suppose, he wasn’t “following Jesus,” but rather “preparing the way” for him. Yet his ministry was clearly in obedience to the Lord, and specifically in service to Christ. It was that ministry that created problems for him.
He was the “voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him,” a ministry which compelled him to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”(Matthew 3:2-3). In Luke’s Gospel we discover that he got very specific regarding the issue of repentance, telling those with an abundance of clothing and food to share with those in need, telling tax collectors to stop gouging, and telling soldiers to stop extorting money and pronouncing false accusations. There was a definite edge to his preaching.
What’s more, his call to repentance was no respecter of rank and position, for he directed it even to Herod himself, proclaiming that his relationship with his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias, was contrary to God’s law. It was a gutsy move. It was a proclamation of truth. And he bore the consequence, suffering imprisonment, and then losing his head.
It’s a compelling example for us, with one caveat.
First, the example. We are called to faithfulness in life and ministry, in whatever way the Lord has called us to walk. There are many things that every follower of Jesus is called to, including prayer, witness, forgiveness, loving one another, loving neighbours, giving, and caring for the poor, to name a few. Following the Lord in these (empowered by his Spirit) will stretch us, sometimes into discomfort. But we are called to obey and follow, nonetheless. John’s example challenges us.
We will each also have specific areas of calling, “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Again, John gives us an example to follow, boldly stepping into the Lord’s calling.
Further, John faithfully bore the consequences of his obedience.If he complained and railed at the injustice, we don’t hear of it. What we see instead is submission to the Lord, even in persecution. That is an important part of the example.
But there is also a caveat. Namely, that we need to be careful we are not using the call to repentance as a means of attacking people, but rather as a means of caring for them. John followed his command to, “Repent,” with the rationale: “the kingdom of God is near.” His motivation was to see people turn back to a gracious God.
We see this more clearly yet in the ministry of Jesus himself. Yes, he continued the message of repentance, but he spoke it most strongly and starkly to those of the religious elite who were rigidly self-righteous. To others he said things like: “I am willing – be clean! … Friend, your sins are forgiven … Neither do I condemn you – go now and leave your life of sin … Your faith has saved you; go in peace … Today you will be with me in paradise.”
So, press fully into the Lord’s calling on your life. Do it regardless of the cost. Be willing to suffer the consequence. But all the way, do it embraced in his grace.
Lord Jesus, may your kingdom come, may your will be done. Thank you for calling me to repentance, the gracious invitation to turn back, to be saved, and to follow in obedience. Strengthen me now to walk in the good works you have prepared in advance for me, regardless of their cost. And may it all be done infused with your grace in which I now stand. For your name’s sake.
Reflect: Is there any calling on your life in which you are currently holding back? Submit it to him. Step into it. Is there any circumstance in which you are called to extend grace, but have held back? Submit it to him. Extend it.